Inside the World of The Last Gladiator, an Interview with Daniel Ottalini

It’s time once again to take a stroll through the brain of a fabulous fantasy author and learn about the world they’ve created. Daniel and I have been internet buds for a long time, and I’m happy to have him on the blog today.

Welcome Daniel!


Before we dive in to the nitty gritty, what is The Last Gladiator about?


The Last Gladiator is a fast-paced story set in my alternate history “Romanpunk” world, where Rome never fell. The fabled gladiators of yore are being replaced by mechanical versions of themselves – Mechagladiators. As one of the last human gladiators, Lucia Rhodanus Fortem must find a way to trust her companions while training for the biggest match of her life.

Fans of Roman history and steampunk adventures will love this different view of a Rome that could have been (and there’s seven other books to read in the universe as well!)

The last gladiator in Rome faces the toughest challenge of all in this prequel novella for the Steam Empire Chronicles, my Steampunk inspired Alternate History Roman World. 


What are the main differences between the “regular world” and the world of your story? Did you choose a moment in time or certain technology to punk to get there?


The point of divergence for the Steam Empire Chronicles is the assassination of Julius Caesar. Many people don’t know that Brutus and Julius were actually very close friends. It isn’t hard to imagine that in a decision to value friendship and family over the Republic, Brutus could have turned in the conspirators. Julius could easily have listened to his friend’s warnings.

From that point, the history shifts from the original timeline (OTL). Without a bloody civil war to establish the empire, Caesar is able to establish stronger bureaucracies and systems for transitioning power and ensuring a stable taxation and organization system. A more stable founding eventually leads to the events in my series, and the Last Gladiator. 

The steampunk elements are really directly connected to the advanced technologies of the Roman empire with an extra 800 years to advance. Airships and mechanical beasts function in the major cities alongside trolleys and paddlewheelers. But the main weapons of the legion are still sword and shield, backed up by repeating crossbows and gunpowder filled ballista bolts. Divergence leads to different technology foci – the Romans weren’t above stealing technology ideas from their neighbors, and were great engineers, but why invent new weapons when the ones you have work really well for the task?

What is the main way people travel in your world?

For long distance travel, most people use trains. Those with more money use airships. The Mediterranean is still a major transportation artery, especially between the grain fields of Aegytus and the hungry mouths of Rome and the north. 

Did you invent any new technology or energy sources to power your story?

Much of my technology runs on liquefied coal or synthetic oil. My Romans have advanced technology but not in all fields. For example, there are no guns or cannons (until later in the series). The Romans have created airships, and maintain fleets of them, even ones that can launch ‘skimmers’ – lightweight powered gliders piloted by teenagers to save on weight. In the Last Gladiator, the most prevalent use of technology is the creation of mechagladiators – giant mechanical constructs that are piloted and about to put the traditional world of gladiator combat to bed. 

Does language play any role in your world? Does everyone speak the same language, or is there a variety? Did you invent any new slang or terminology during your world-building process?

While Latin is the main language, there are other major languages in the world – Persian, various Chinese, Indian, and African languages – that play a large part in distinct sections of the empire. For example, many Romano-British citizens also speak Celtic or Norse, and the area uses many loan words. Within the Last Gladiator, the characters are really speaking in Latin, although in real life Rome, there would have been many more languages in use, especially in the gladiator arena!

Is there any kind of faith system in your world? Myths and legends that inform the setting or characters? Did you draw inspiration from any real cultures, living or dead?

I think one of the most interesting things about my world is the dual faith system between the two major religions of the empire – the Pantheonic Gods (Jupiter, Mars, Mercury) and the Christian God. Augustus the IV managed to create a delicate balance between the two competing religions, simply placing higher taxes on whichever one had more adherents based on the census. He then appointed a Pontifex Maximus for each religion who reported to the Emperor. It is an interesting part of the history of my world that I haven’t explored in depth (yet!).

Daniel’s Process


When you build a world, what is your process like? Do you do a lot of research upfront, wing it completely, or something in between?


For me, I started by just writing and building it out as I went. However, the longer I went on, the more work I had to put into remembering things from earlier books/novels/blog posts and tying that all together. So as I move into a new series, I’m definitely planning on establishing some ‘wideset’ rules for the area/world. For the Last Gladiator, I did a lot more research than I did for my first novel, and I was lucky enough to get a Roman reenactor to beta read the novel, looking for weaknesses in my terminology and tactics.


When helping the reader get to know the world you built, what techniques do you use? Do you tend to be front load with context, or keep the reader in the dark and feed them only bits at a time? 


It’s so hard to show, not tell! Argh! One of my greatest challenges! In the Last Gladiator, the background comes in bits and pieces. One of my favorite techniques is to use newspapers and advertisements that the characters see or read to give hints of situations and background. It’s a neat medium between showing and telling. Another nice thing about this novella is that because it is a prequel, I already knew that many people would be coming to the book with background knowledge of the world, and this allowed me to focus on a very small section of the world through one character’s eyes.


How much of a role does realism play in your world-building? 


With steampunk, there’s always a fine line between realism and fantasy or science fiction. I think realism is important when it comes to customs, situations, interactions between people and the organizations that exist. Using real, or based on real, organizations, events, or structures really helps lend strength to your work. You don’t have to come up with completely new ways of greeting each other or housing arrangements, of how military ranks are created or what secret police organizations exist. By looking at our own history, you can find almost all the information you need, then give it your own special twist. 

How do you keep all of the details of your world and characters straight? Do you have a system for deciding on different factors and keeping it all organized, or does it live more in your head?

When I first started writing, I wrote my first outline by hand in a journal. I did the same for my second book, but by the third one I had realized that creating a google doc allowed me to type, save, search, move around and provide more detail without having to rewrite a summary for a scene several times. By structuring the who, when, and what of each chapter, it helps me keep (better) track of everything!

Thanks so much for coming by and letting us peek inside your world! Where can people find you on the web?

Thanks so much for having me! I’m always up for talking about world-building. I think the more you do it, the better you get at it, and the more you realize what is critically important and what isn’t. Of course it is so much fun that it is easy to get carried away with world building. The Last Gladiator is available on Smashwords, Nook and Kindle.

Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also check out my author blog and the book series website.

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